On Saturday, Chelsea look to get back to their winning ways in the Premier League, as they welcome Hull City to Stamford Bridge. On current form, this should be a nice bounce-back game for the Blues, who are looking to recover from two poor performances on their two trips to the Northeast over the last two weeks. Hull City have been struggling as late, having not won in their last eight matches, losing four out of the eight.
However, Chelsea can take solace in their midweek performance against Sporting CP. Jose Mourinho’s men had already qualified as Group G winners and had the luxury of resting a few ahead of the difficult Christmas period. His second-team players responded well and put on a performance that led to a comfortable 3-1 victory; so comfortable that Mourinho was able to hand Ruben Loftus-Cheek his Chelsea debut, albeit in the 83rd minute.
On the other end of the spectrum, Steve Bruce’s men will be looking for something to build on going into this holiday period. Morale has to be a bit low when a side is on such a bad run of form. But until recently, Hull had put in a few good performances against teams, only to see late equalisers or winners fly into their net. They will hope to channel that belief in this match, and a win over a Chelsea side would go a long way to regaining confidence.
Form is temporary. Class is permanent. Or is it?
On paper, this looks like a complete mismatch in both form and quality. But matches are not played on paper, as Chelsea well know from their adventures against Newcastle and Sunderland. However, despite a bit of a wobbly period for the Blues, the players that they have should be good enough to beat a Hull City team that has a couple deficiencies in their side.
But in the last two weeks, questions have been raised about this Chelsea side, specifically Mourinho’s choice to not rotate his squad as much as he could and the Blues overall sharpness looking lower than it was at the start of the season. The two sort of go hand in hand, which is where the quality should shine through.
But they have a tricky opponent in Hull City who are also very good at defending in numbers and Manchester City aside, have put in decent performances against Liverpool, Arsenal, and Tottenham; the latter were lucky to escape with a win. However a 3-0 defeat against Manchester United seems to have knocked a bit of the life out of them, and it’ll be interesting to see if they recover. This is a team that has shown an ability to raise its game against top opposition, and they’ll look to show that ability once again on Saturday.
3-4-2-1 or 4-2-3-1? Which number combination is the correct choice?
So far this season, Steve Bruce has experimented with both of the above formations to varying degrees of success. Last season, he played mostly 3-4-2-1 with decent success, and the signing of Michael Dawson has only strengthened that formation. However, Hull have struggled a bit more this season with that formation, in part because of their lack of firepower up front as of late, but also because that formation has tended to get pushed back into a 5-4-1 much more easily than last season. With no midfielder particularly in good form at the left wingback position, Bruce has often played a more orthodox left back there, meaning the width was mostly being created with Ahmed El-Mohamadi on the right. Against Chelsea, that means you can more easily defend the center and frustrate their attacks, but it also means that you can get stuck and not be able to get out of your own half.
On the flip side, the 4-2-3-1 has been a good formation in terms of being able to defend in two banks of four with one behind the striker to counterattack more easilyHowever, it gives you a decision to make. Do you play a more creative player like a Gaston Ramirez who might not defend as well, or do you play a more hardworking player like a Mohamed Diame on the left who offers less going forward?
What’s ended up happening for Hull is that they end up on the two extreme ends of the spectrum way too often. They either sit too deep and invite too much pressure, or they open up space by playing a less defensive player and work harder to keep the shape without the spare man at the back and lose concentration as they get fatigued. They one that they choose on Saturday will go a long way to determining the pattern of the match.
Hull’s main weakness has been their ability to score goals.
All in all, Hull’s strike force isn’t at all that bad. Between Nikica Jelavic, Sone Aluko, and Abel Hernandez, they’ve scored 9 goals in all competitions. However, since the 2-2 draw to Arsenal back on October 18, Hull have managed to score just twice in the League, and it’s affected their results.
Part of that is down to their strikers. Jelavic is a man who thrives on service. Aluko is a man that has pace to get in behind a defence, but often likes to come deep and run at the back line. And Abel Hernandez is a much more classic all-around centre forward, but since this is his first season in the Premier League, the question is whether the league has finally caught on and have figured out how to limit him.
More worrying is that the service to strikers in general has been awful lately. Hatem Ben Arfa and Gaston Ramirez were brought in to provide a bit of creativity to the side, but neither has really impressed since moving over the summer. In fact, Hatem Ben Arfa looks like he’s back to the player that upset so many at Olympique Lyonnais and Olympic de Marseille with his lack of desire, work rate, and temperament, leading to him joining Newcastle United in the first place. That lack of creativity has really stemmed the flow of goals, and when you can’t score, it makes it hard to gain points.
Hull’s main strength is that centre midfield.
If Hull has one strength, it is in the midfield. The trio of Tom Huddlestone, Jake Livermore, and Diame is a trio that any team around the mid-table would love to build a side around, and they’ve definitely performed like it. Diame has brought the same energy that he displayed in past seasons at West Ham and has been buoyed by the resurrection of the careers of Huddlestone and Livermore since leaving Tottenham.
The problem for that midfield is the fact that Hull end up not having the ball enough for any of them to truly influence a match. Huddlestone is a man that has rediscovered his range of passing since moving to Hull, but he likes to find pockets of space between defence and midfield in order to be able to dictate the play. Likewise, Livermore is a very similar type of player, albeit one that operates slightly further forward, but he also needs the ball in order to be able to influence the attack. With these two midfielders, and Diame providing th runs, you should have a double pivot that allows you to have better possession. But with the ineffectiveness of the wide players in general, it’s really hurt their ability to retain the ball, as neither Livermore nor Huddlestone are really the types of players who can initiate a quick counterattack.
As a consequence, you’re not really seeing the best out of either player at the moment, but you still have to account for them because they are capable of producing quality from the midfield.
Will the absence of Cesc Fabregas hurt as much as Nemanja Matic’s did last week?
The absence of Nemanja Matic through yellow-card suspension was clearly felt last week against Newcastle, as Chelsea looked much more open at the back without the Serb’s ability to not only dictate play from deep, but also break up attacks. This week, Chelsea will find themselves in another suspension situation with Fabregas being absent. The Spaniard leads the Premier League assist charts by a pretty wide margin and has been the midfield playmaker that Chelsea have lacked in recent seasons. The question is who his replacement will be and how effective they fit in.
Candidate one to replace Cesc Fabregas is Ramires. The Brazilian has had a bit of an up-and-down campaign, missing out due to injuries and the overall play of the duo of Matic and Fabregas in the center. He offers the attacking emphasis that Fabregas provides, but without the passing ability, but with better defending. The problem with Ramires is that in recent weeks, Fabregas had begun to occupy similar spaces to Oscar when teams sat deep, leading to the play being a bit disjointed and congested. Ramires may not look to pass from those positions, but he does like to make late runs into those positions, and you might see a similar result between Ramires and Oscar if Ramires plays.
Candidate two is Mikel John Obi, who replaced Matic against Newcastle and played alongside Matic against Sporting CP. Mikel didn’t have the best of performances against Newcastle, offering a more restricted passing game to Matic and being caught out of position defensively at times when he tracked the wrong runner. However, he allows Matic to play more in the Fabregas role, and he sits deeper, giving more space to the three men who play in front of him, while retaining possession a bit better.
Regardless of who is chosen, both men are capable players and can do a job. But most likely, they will see a bus parked in front of their goal, and whether they can help break it down is another question, as neither really provides the same creativity as Fabregas.